St. Gregory of Tours - Encyclopedia

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ST, OF TOURS GREGORY (538-594), historian of the Franks, was born in the chief city of the Arverni (the modern ClermontFerrand) on the 30th of November 538. His real name was Georgius Florentius, Georgius being his grandfather's name and Florentius his father's. He was called Gregory after his maternal great-grandfather, the bishop of Langres. Gregory belonged to an illustrious senatorial family, many of whose members held high office in the church and bear honoured names in the history of Christianity. He was descended, it is said, from Vettius Epagathus, who was martyred at Lyons in 177 with St Pothinus; his paternal uncle, Gallus, was bishop of Clermont; his maternal grand-uncle, Nicetius (St Nizier), occupied the see of Lyons; and he was a kinsman of Euphronius, bishop of Tours.

Gregory lost his father early, and his mother Armentaria settled in the kingdom of Burgundy on an estate belonging to her near Cavaillon, where her son often visited her. Gregory was brought up at Clermont-Ferrand by his uncle Gallus and by his successor, Avitus, and there he received his education. Among profane authors he read the first six books of the Aeneid and Sallust's history of the Catiline conspiracy, but his education was mainly religious. The principles of religion he learnt from the Bible, Sulpicius Severus and some lives of saints, but to patristic literature and the subtleties of theology he remained a stranger. In 563, at the age of twenty-five, he was ordained deacon. Falling seriously ill, he went to Tours to seek a cure at the tomb of St Martin. At Tours he lived with Euphronius, and so great was the young man's popularity that, on the death of Euphronius in 573, the people unanimously designated him bishop.

At that time Tours belonged to Austrasia, and King Sigebert hastened to confirm Gregory's election. After the assassination of Sigebert (575), the province was ruled by Chilperic for nine years, during which period Gregory displayed the greatest energy in protecting his town and church from the Frankish king. He had to contend with Count Leudast, the governor of Tours; despite all the king's threats, he refused to give up Chilperic's son Meroving, who had sought refuge from his father's wrath at the sanctuary of St Martin; and he defended Bishop Pretextatus against Chilperic, by whom he had been condemned for celebrating the marriage of Merovech and Queen Brunhilda. In 580 Gregory was himself accused before a council at Berny of using abusive language against Queen Fredegond, but he cleared himself of the charge by an oath and was acquitted. On the death of Chilperic, Tours remained for two years (584-585) in the hands of Guntram, but when Guntram adopted his nephew Childebert, Sigebert's son, it again became Austrasian. This change was welcome to Gregory, who often visited the court. In 586 he was at Coblenz, and on his return to Yvois (the modern Carignan) visited the stylite Wulfilaic; in 588 we hear of him at Metz and also at Chalon-sur-Saone,whither he was sent to obtain from King Guntram the ratification of the pact of Andelot; in 593 he was at Orleans, where Childebert had just succeeded his uncle Guntram. In the intervals of these journeys he governed Tours with great firmness, repressing disorders and reducing the monks and nuns to obedience. He died on the 17th of November 594.

Gregory left many writings, of which he himself gives an enumeration at the end of his Historia Francorum: " Decem libros Historiarum, septem Miraculorum, unum de Vita Patrum scripsi; in Psalterii tractatu librum unum commentatus sum; de Cursibus etiam ecclesiasticis unum librum condidi." The ten books of history are discussed below. The seven books of miracles are divided into the De gloria martyrum, the De virtutibus sancti Juliani, four books of Miracula sancti Martini, and the De gloria confessorum, the last dealing mainly with confessors who had dwelt in the cities of Tours and Clermont. The Vitae patrum consists of twenty biographies of bishops, abbots and hermits belonging to Gaul. The commentary on the Psalms is lost, the preface and the titles of the chapters alone being extant. The treatise De cursibus ecclesiasticis, discovered in 1853, is a liturgical manual for determining the hour of divers nocturnal offices by the position of the stars. Gregory also left a life of St Andrew, translated from the Greek, and a history of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, translated from Syriac.

His most important work, however, is the Historia Francorum, which is divided into three parts. The first four books, which were composed at one time, cover the period from the creation of the world to the death of Sigebert in 575. The first book, which is a mere compilation from the chronicles of St Jerome and Orosius, is of no value. The second book, from 397 to 511, deals with the invasions of the Franks, and is based on the histories of Sulpicius Alexander and Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus, now lost; on the catalogues of the bishops of Clermont and Tours; on some lives of saints, e.g. Remigius and Maxentius, now lost; on the annals of Arles and Angers, now lost; and on legends, either collected by Gregory himself from oral tradition, or cantilenes or epics written in the Latin and Germanic languages. In the third and fourth books the earlier part is based on materials collected from men older than himself; of the later events he was himself an eye-witness. The fifth and sixth books, up to the death of Chilperic (584), deal with matters within his own experience. The first six books are often separate in the MSS., and it was these alone that were used by the chronicler Fredegarius in his abridgment of Gregory's history. To the first six books Gregory subsequently added chapters on the bishops Salonius and Sagittarius, and on his quarrels with Felix of Nantes. The authenticity of these chapters has been undeservedly attacked by Catholic writers. Books vii. to x., from 584 to 591, were written in the form of a diary; of each important event, as it occurred, he inserted an account in his book. The last six books are of great historical value.

Gregory had an intimate knowledge of contemporary events. He was frequently at court, and he found Tours an excellent place for collecting information. The shrine of St Martin attracted the sick from all quarters, and the basilica of the saint was a favourite sanctuary for political refugees. Moreover, Tours was on the high road between the north and south of France, and was a convenient stage for travellers, the ambassadors going to and from Spain frequently halting there. Gregory plied every one with questions, and in this way gathered a great mass of detailed information. He was, besides, at great pains to be an impartial writer, but was not always successful. His devotion to Austrasia made him very bitter against, and perhaps unjust to, the sovereigns of Neustria, Chilperic and Fredegond. As an orthodox Christian, he had no good word for the Arians. He excuses the crimes of kings who protected the church, such as Clovis, Clotaire I. and Guntram, but had no mercy for those who violated ecclesiastical privileges. This attitude, no doubt, explains his hatred for Chilperic. But if Gregory's historical judgments are suspect, he at least concealed nothing and invented nothing; and we can correct his judgments by his own narrative. His history is a curious compound of artlessness and shrewdness. He was ignorant of the rules of grammar, confused genders and cases, and wrote in the vernacular Latin of his time, apart from certain passages which are especially elaborated and filled with poetical and elegant expressions. But in spite of his shortcomings he is an exceedingly attractive writer, and his mastery of the art of narrative has earned for him the name of the Herodotus of the barbarians.

T. Ruinart brought out a complete edition of Gregory's works at Paris in 1699. The best modern complete edition is that of W. Arndt and B. Krusch in Mon. Germ. hist. script. rer. Merov. (vol. i., 1885). Of the many editions of the Historia Francorum may be mentioned those of Guadet and Taranne in the Soc. de l'hist. de France (4 vols., with French translation, 1836-1838), of Omont (the first six books; a reproduction of the Corvey MS.) and of G. Collon (the last four books; a reproduction of the Brussels MS. No. 9, 403). Gregory's hagiographic works were published by H. Bordier in the Soc. de l'hist. de France (4 vols., with French translation, 1857-1864). Cf. J. W. Lobell, Gregor von Tours and seine Zeit (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1868); G. Monod, "Etudes critiques sur les sources de l'histoire merovingienne" in the Bibl. de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes (1872); G. Kurth, "Gregoire de Tours et les etudes classiques au VI e siècle" in the Revue des questions historiques (xxiv. 586 seq., 1878); Max Bonnet, Le Latin de Gregoire de Tours (Paris, 1890). For details, see Ulysse Chevalier, Biobibliographie (2nd ed.). (C. PF.)

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